Has Every Manufacturer Lost Its Way?

Now there are many pundits who have expressed their opinions on how a whole damn bunch of manufacturers, Honda, BMW, and Porsche come to my mind first, may have lost their roots. And yeah, those folks looking at the interior of the Honda Pilot did so after this olelongrooffan walked up, opened the door and checked that newbie out as a buddy is looking to get one for the gorgeous woman in his life. Having said that, know this, my fellow Hoons, this olelongrooffan is certainly not qualified to express an opinion about the loss of manufacturer’s roots but I do have this to say about that.

In the image seen above, the almost original Honda Gold Wing has been replaced

by this bemouth that certainly demonstrates the model bloat that is ubiquitous among almost all models of cars, trucks and motorbikes these days.

But, IMHO, not only has Honda lost its direction in the engineering sense, I’m not so sure it remembers who its target audience is. I mean is this Honda a Suzuki wannabe?

Or maybe a much beloved Ducati?

Oh wait, we need a Harley fighter.

If not that, possibly a BMW lookalike?

Oh no, that is over reaching. How about a Vespa?

No? Okay then an old school Cushman is definitely going to take us over the top!

Alright then, let’s just settle for a Polaris.
My fellow Hoons, this weekend I have seen so many attempts by most manufacturers to be every thing to every one that it is no surprise that all of them are struggling to compete.
An old business adage is “Don’t be every thing to every body. Find your perfection and market that.” I only hope my favorite manufacturers can figure that out soon.
Either that or this olelongrooffan will never purchase anything that is not a “Blue Plate Special” ever again.

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51 responses to “Has Every Manufacturer Lost Its Way?”

  1. Abe Avatar

    I'm thinking that "Big Red" is larger than a Smart car. So much for an off road toy.

    1. Lotte Avatar

      Maybe so, but it's "Big Red" after all. I imagine I'd have so much fun tramping through the woods in one of those.

    2. ptschett Avatar

      Big Red is definitely big…
      Dimension: Big Red / Smart "pure coupe"
      Length: 114.7 / 106.1
      Width: 64.0 / 61.38
      Height: 76.9 / 60.71
      Wheelbase: 75.7 / 73.5

    3. P161911 Avatar

      That is why a popular alternative to vehicles such as Big Red is a used Kei 4WD trucklet imported from Japan for about 1/2 the price.

      1. JeepyJayhawk Avatar

        There will only be one Big Red that ever counts in my book… <img src="http://www.3wheeler.org/pics/Honda/atcbrd86.jpg"&gt;

  2. Maxichamp Avatar

    I know Lancia has lost its ways for a while now, but seeing all those rebadged Chrysler renderings really has me seething.

    1. facelvega Avatar

      There is no Lancia anymore, not really, though I'd grant it still existed at least the first few years of Fiat ownership. I guess there is a Jaguar again, but it has nearly nothing to do with the old one. Bristol may have just died, Rolls and Bentley are effectively gone, Lotus is about to be ruined with supposedly good but in fact greedy and blinkered intentions. Ferrari and Lamborghini still exist, kind of. Alfa might be on the brink of a resurgence with something of its original feel. TVR is long gone, ditto Jensen, though we still have Morgan. I'm not sure what Aston is now but I don't get the impression it's worth fighting for. Of the great old Italian design houses, the only one still independent and producing good work is Bertone, and they just barely dodged destruction.

      1. Maxichamp Avatar

        But we'll always have Bristol!

        1. facelvega Avatar

          Ouch! I'm still too disturbed to joke about this yet. Unless you mean that Bristols never seem to wear out. But even if somebody saves the company now at the eleventh hour, they're liable to make it yet another bland supercar company and stop doing saloons entirely. I've read articles saying that the Blenheim will get axed no matter what. The only car company I would trust not to ruin what is left of Bristol is Morgan.

      2. tonyola Avatar

        I have to disagree about Bentley. The name nearly died in the late 1960s and 1970s when the cars were nothing more than Rolls with different grilles and badges. Sales were down to a trickle and Rolls was considering saving money by ditching the Bentley name altogether. Fortunately, Rolls changed their mind by the '80s and began making Bentleys more distinct by turbocharging them. The brand has undergone a big revival over the past 20 years, and even if you don't love the current Mulsannes and Continental, they're still highly individual luxury machines. For looks, I'd take a Mulsanne over a Phantom any day.

        1. facelvega Avatar

          You really esteem them so highly? I don't think they're bad, I just think they're the next Audi up from the S8, with the special English styling and assembly package. And to me German cars equate to bourgeois taste and not real luxury ever since the W100 was discontinued, and maybe even since the W113. I'd rather have an Indian Jag for just this reason, or just accept my inner business suit and go for the standard S8 or 7-series. I would however probably go Bentley over a new Aston. Hard to imagine, though, as I'd feel embarrassed to drive any of these cars new.

          1. tonyola Avatar

            I think the current Bentleys do a lot more for the marque's reputation than pure badge-engineering efforts of the past like the Bentley T-series. It was nothing but a Rolls with a different grille and a marginally lower price. The Rolls outsold it by 15 to 1 in some years. You might not love the current range and you can bemoan the German parenthood, but at least people now know what Bentleys *are* – they're no longer the invisible poor sister to Rolls-Royce.
            <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/f9/Bentley_T2_reg_1977_6750_cc.JPG/800px-Bentley_T2_reg_1977_6750_cc.JPG&quot; width=400>

          2. Black Steelies Avatar

            I just read the C&D article on the Bentley Mulsanne and consider it your case in point. It may have Rolls lineage and a German parts-bin [and two Mitsu turbos I might add] but it has combined their prestige and engineering respectively in a beautiful package. It's not just the A10 or whatever, it's finally a Bentley.

      3. Syrax Avatar

        I'd have to respectfully disagree. Jaguar made sporty luxury cars. What in their portfolio isn't that? Lotus makes feather weight sport cars. Tell me a car competing with a Lotus that's lighter. The Mulsanne at least is still handmade and, as much as I think it's not a good Arnage replacement, it is as much of a Bentley as every one before it. They just have to adapt, or they'll end up like Bristol and TVR! I've said this on The Smoking Tire: I'm sure Colin Chapman would rather see his cars change than see his company bankrupt. It isn't about greed.

        1. facelvega Avatar

          I don't have a problem with the new Jaguar, I just think that the time under Ford and the interregnum inactivity mean that the new Jag really is something new and not fundamentally a continuation of the old company/people/ideas. But God love 'em, at least they're definitely not German, which is good these days when every Japanese and even American luxury car is trying to be German.
          Concerning Lotus, I really liked the last decade of Lotuses, even the Evora. What I think will destroy Lotus is the new direction being pursued by Dany Bahar, the Ferrari marketing guy who is now CEO. The half-dozen bland Ferrari-esque cars announced at the Paris auto show are definitely not lightweight sports cars, they are almost all big, high-horsepower, luxury semi-supercars slotted into the Porsche price range. There are too many of them and they all look the same. They will completely displace the existing Lotus character, and if you don't believe me consider that Bahar terminated the entire European dealer network so that he could push upscale more convincingly. All the traditional Lotus dealers, all the well-establish dealership garages gone because they were too low-brow racer-ish. Lotus is deliberately being killed off to be replaced with Brand Lotus, which is apparently Ferrari for slightly less-rich people.

  3. Maymar Avatar

    I don't think I can fault Honda for using much of the competition for inspiration – isn't it fair to say that the original CB750 was more or less a Triumph Bonneville that wouldn't leave you stranded? In fact, quite a few iconic Japanese vehicles owe their existence to something European.
    That being said, I don't necessarily think Honda's lost their way. Granted, there is the North American appetite for size, that coupled with modern safety regulations means they can't really return to where they've been. Still, freed from historical connotations of what they used to be, the Accord and Civic are just good cars. Very Jack of all Trades, Master of None – fuel efficient, reliable, reasonably comfortable, fun to drive for a mass market product. And of course, if you absolutely want something smaller, they've still got the Fit. And of course, there was the Civic Si. For that, we've only got ourselves to blame. We'd speak out of one side of our mouth, declaring our love for Honda's high-revving fours, while out of the other claiming the Si's was underpowered in the face of competition that chose forced induction or big displacement (even though the Honda's charm was more about the handling, and then the power was tweaked to match).

    1. packratmatt Avatar

      I agree. Honda, as well as other manufacturers, haven't lost their way. There just a reflection of what the people want. It's the people who have lost their way. I just read an article in the Sunday paper about what women want in a car. It's mostly about keeping the kids entertained, ease of use, and staying connected with a bunch of electronic gizmos. It has very little to do with actually driving a vehicle. Both men and women want power and handling in a car but they won't use them. They also want satnav, cellphones, and mp3 in their cars because they will use those. Anything to distract themselves from the drudgery of driving. And, they want bigger, fatter cars to carry their bigger, fatter asses because, God forbid, they should eat something healthy or get a little exercise. Stupid idiots! Get the hell out of my way with your shitty cars and shitty lifestyles! ARRRGGGHHH!!! What were we talking about?

      1. JeepyJayhawk Avatar

        I read the same article, the wife refused to. But hey, it said the 5 door was hot again…

  4. Hoonda Avatar

    Honda's cars have absolutely lost their way. In the 90's it used to be a major selling point that every car they sold was equipped with a double wishbone suspension, which they made a point of mentioning was connected to their formula one heritage. The civic switched over to macpherson struts up front in 2001, and the accord did in 2003. Neither of the newer versions handle nearly as nicely as the older cars.
    While they might sometimes hold on longer, the new cars do not feel nearly as nice going over bumps mid-corner, inspiring less confidence, resulting in slower cornering speeds. 90's civics and accords drove extremely well, and felt much more planted and tossable than their mac-strut and later twist-beam equipped competitors.
    And now, with the CR-Z, a car that is supposed to recall the peak of honda's building road-legal go-karts, we get mac struts up front and a twist-beam out back, and 2700lbs curb weight. You can't call it a sport compact without a proper independent rear suspension.
    Other examples:
    My 1997 accord sedan is smaller (and roughly the same weight as) a 2007 civic sedan.
    The new accord is a full-size car, and weighs around 3500lbs. Its basically turned into a camry.
    Civic Si's weigh 2800lbs.

    1. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

      I think, nameplate abuse aside, the real problem is that there's no sporting version of the Fit. The CR-Z doesn't count because it's heavy and ridiculous; I mean a Fit, no weight beyond seats, dash, panels, carpet, power windows if they really must, four speakers, and a line-in jack. Add in lightweight 16" wheels, a bit more power, and firmer, well-tuned suspension. The 'Fit Sport' exists, I'm aware, and some of what it has is what I want – say, the rear stabiliser bar – but the base audio system is sufficient, no more than four cupholders are needed (ten! It has TEN! Good God!) and I've no real desire for foglights. Sell it as though it were a '90s Civic – 'hey kids, remember us?'. Given that the Fit is basically a modern Wagovan and there is no '90s Civic in the lineup, that might be difficult, but compared to the ZDX, it's an obvious course of action.
      Oh, and building a more competent Civic Si wouldn't hurt, either. I promise.

      1. Hoonda Avatar

        I agree with just about everything there, but even the fit has mac struts up front and a failtacular twist beam (which I refuse to believe in) out back.
        They handle well, but that's more a product of lightness than good suspension. The mac struts I have less of a problem with, many good cars have come with them, but the twist beam axle is pretty much unforgivable. There is NO reason to put that on your cars other than trying to save money.

        1. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

          Well, a torsion beam can make sense on, say, a minivan, which… oh, well, that explains everything. The Fit certainly does straddle the line between hatchback and MPV – but again, there's no real remotely sporty subcompact in Honda's lineup.

  5. CptSevere Avatar

    You definitely hit the nail right on the head illustrating model bloat with the two Goldwings. Goldwings have never been small, but today's version is just a two wheeled car. The even have a reverse gear. I find them ridiculous. That Big Red thing is another example, when those "side by sides" first came out, they were pretty utilitarian, and I liked them. That one looks like it's for hauling the morbidly obese down the driveway to get the mail. I'll bet anyone a six pack that it outweighs a flat fender Willys Jeep, and will cost you more than a restored WWII MB.
    Now, that little Cushman-esque dirt scooter is more like it. I could see myself buzzing around town on it.

    1. ChuckyShamrok Avatar

      the Cushman-esque scooter is a Honda Ruckus. Quite popular with the hipsters who are too hip for a Vespa, Quite a common site in Boston

      1. ptschett Avatar

        I always lusted after the 250cc "Big Ruckus", till I saw the price tag which was right up there with real bikes like KLR650's and GS500's. Probably explains why they only sold that version for a few years.

      2.  Avatar
        1. ChuckyShamrok Avatar

          It's Popular with hipsters though, Never said you had to be one to own one. I drive a pickup truck? Am I a redneck? (the Answer is:Kinda)

          1. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

            Just like I'm sort of, but not entirely, a hippie, and I drive old Volvos.
            I suspect we're full of half-fulfilled stereotypes around here.

          2. JeepyJayhawk Avatar

            I am definitely not a frat brah.

  6. Lotte Avatar

    Blue plate Special?
    <img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3304/3555100497_207099a032.jpg&quot; width="300">
    or Blue Plate Special?
    <img src="http://www.dancrouchblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/img2267.jpeg&quot; width="300">
    I agree with you on the model bloat, but I don't think there's any problem with the look-alikes. If you wanted a Vespa/Harley?Polaris, then you would've gotten one. If you wanted a Honda for their engineering, essence, reliability, nostalgia, trust, whatever, then these are for you. I don't think choice isn't a bad thing as long as some companies keep making things without compromise.

    1. JeepyJayhawk Avatar

      Okay, so to the flatlander, how does this blue/black/white plate stuff work out there on the left coast?

      1. longrooffan Avatar

        Not so sure how it works on the left coast but here in the Sunshine State on the right coast, any vehicle 25 years or older get you a special "Antique" license plate that stays with the vehicle and is only subject to minimal annual renewal fees.

        1. Lotte Avatar

          Don't you get a limited mileage allowance after registering it as an antique, though? I think that's the way it works up here in Ontario; you pay less for the registration but can't use it as a daily driver.

  7. From_a_Buick_6 Avatar

    I think the model bloat from Honda is so frustrating because they're the one manufacturer you'd expect to be immune from it.
    What bothers me more about Honda, beyond the truly revolting styling on every vehicle they make, is that they've just gotten lazy and stubborn. They were never willing to go to V8s and RWD with Acura and have been reduced to also-rans in the luxury market. They allowed the Civic Si fall towards the back of the pack in terms of performance, and instead of embracing turbocharging like the GTI, they're going to saddle the 2012 model with a fat CR-V engine. Where's the innovation?
    The major knock against Japanese products by the pro-domestic crowd (especially the Harley guys) is that they're unoriginal. Everything Honda does is a copy of something American or European. They're aren't authentic, they say. That's narrow-minded and very tiresome defense mechanism. At their peak, Hondas bikes and cars were so much better than the domestic competition, everything else didn't matter. Anybody who tried to justify an X-car over one of the new Marysville-built Accords "Because it's American" was an idiot. Unfortunately, Honda and Toyota no longer seem interested in pushing the envelope and even Detroit has largely caught up. I can't really justify buying an Accord over any number of other midsizers anymore. Same thing goes for their motorcycles. I was a Honda loyalist for years, but now they offer nothing that appeals to me.
    Only problem is that the GM and Harley guys are still mouth-breathing idiots convinced of their brand's superiority to everything else…I want no part of that. Across the pond, BMW has its own set of problems. I drive a Mustang now, and Dearborn actually seems to know what it's doing these days. And whenever I get the motorcycle bug again, I'm getting a Triumph.

  8. facelvega Avatar

    Well, let's be grateful for the models that have somehow managed to create such a sharply-defined identity that they are staying relatively pure. The Jeep Wrangler is still what it claims to be. The Miata is about to lose weight again. The little Porsches are still fairly serious. Little purpose-built racers like the Ariel Atom and the X-Bow are hard to fault in this light. The new Morgan cycle car, though apparently just a tweaked Liberty Ace, is about as close to getting back to roots as you could ask. That's all I can think of off the top of my head, sadly.
    <img src="http://images.hemmings.com/wp-content/uploads//2011/03/Morganthreewheeler_05_700-700×520.jpg"&gt;

    1. Maymar Avatar

      Porsche, for all its flaws, has kept the 911 rather true to mission (perhaps because having approximately 42 different models allows it to leap off in any number of directions from the main path).

      1. facelvega Avatar

        It's interesting to compare the approaches of Porsche and Jeep to Mazda here– the first two have kept their core cars intact and on mission while adding non-enthusiast vehicles to the brand to make money, while Mazda tries to make all of its cars a little drivey in the context of their segment to differentiate from the other big Japanese companies. I think the first route is actually safer, dismal jeeps of the last ten years notwithstanding. As another pairing, think of Lotus versus Morgan– Lotus disastrously about to transform its trademark engineering nuttiness into me-too supercar branding in hopes of a major expansion, while Morgan just stays small and focused. I used to think both brands were a little too showy, but these days I can imagine owning a newish Morgan but only old Lotuses.

        1. Maymar Avatar

          I think Jeep falls somewhere between Porsche and Mazda in those described approaches. It's very easy to describe them in terms of the CJ/Wrangler, but there's more to it than that. You can trace a pretty clear lineage from the Wagoneer (circa 1963, when the company had only been around for 22 years) through the modern Grand Cherokee. Even ignoring the original Jeepster, they've been looking to expand the brand in fairly organic ways for a long time. Likewise, the Liberty, despite not being half the modern classic that the XJ Cherokee was, is still pretty reasonably Jeep (except for the Nissan Xterra and a couple Toyotas, I'm drawing a blank on what competitors are off-road worthy). I suppose you could make a case for the Compatriot twins, although non-4WD Jeeps are nothing new either, and from what I understand, they're pretty capable with low range (which they've finally added to the Compass).

          1. facelvega Avatar

            I was thinking compatriot as the crass and execrable bottom-line offerings. The normal and grand SUV offerings are definitely in the Jeep tradition, and even if the Liberty was a weak offering and no Dick Teague-designed Cherokee, it was better than the Freelander, and only a little worse than the first Discovery. And I'm the last person to cast a stone at a Wagoneer or any other item that came from Brooks Stevens, including any origami may have done or any pencils he may have personally sharpened. I'd even take an Excalibur.
            Generally I see Jeep as the last remnant of AMC, and AMC as the symbol of decency and working-class honor in the American industrial complex up against the big three. My idea of American cultural history needs Jeep, so I'm willing to cut them some slack.

          2. Maymar Avatar

            The Compatriots are definitely unloved, and they're not exactly great vehicles (nevermind great Jeeps). At the same time, there's a cobbled together feel about them that highlights a certain similarity between AMC and Chrysler, both companies that have managed to do more with a piece of engineering than should be rationally possible. And, that commitment to make them both Trail Rated shows that at least someone in the company wants to try and maintain some semblance of the Jeep reputation. I won't shed a tear for them when they're replaced in the next couple years, but their infamy's a little trumped up.

  9. skitter Avatar

    Caterham needs a shout out, even though a few hardcore lunatics are offended by the updated SV frame.

    1. Black Steelies Avatar

      The Brits are probably the most apt at sticking to their roots and making the cars that have mostly the same purpose/character as they ever did, Caterham being a prime example. Keeping it light and tweaking as you go along is a recipe for success. And STILL I wonder how the cheapest model is nearly $30k for a car so scant and under-engineered. Considering it performs as well as cars costing over 3x as much, I can forgive just this once.

  10. JeepyJayhawk Avatar

    I'll go ahead and stick this out there for discussion <img src=http://www.blogcdn.com/www.autoblog.com/media/2007/09/08f150_60th_mjr-opt.jpg>
    So large it's not maneuverable nor useful? Who can or would willingly pay 40k for something to beat the hell out of? Why don't they make stripped pickups anymore that sit lower and are semi-fuel frugal?
    Yes I want a straight six, get off my lawn.

    1. idiotking Avatar

      Jesus, yes. If I could actually afford a pickup to, um, pick up stuff, I'd own one. But I don't want to/can't pay an extra $25K for heated leather seats and a 25-speaker DVD system.

    2. Black Steelies Avatar

      Yes, Everyone, I hear ya, agreed.
      Anymore brain busters?

    3. longrooffan Avatar

      I'll take the red '48 on the trailer any day. My older brother had one of those back in the day and we had a toothy grilled '51 back on the farm.

    4. ptschett Avatar

      Yeah, full-size pickup dimensions are getting crazy and Ford's one of the worst offenders. In pursuit of the biggest cab/box/towing/etc. they can make all these great claims of biggest this and most towing that, but in the meantime they've lost customers like my granddad who switched to Chevys because at 84 years of age he appreciates that the Chevy's box is a little lower and easier to reach into. It used to be a SuperCab/short box was of a size that would fit in my stupid little garage (19' usable length), but now if I wanted an F-150 that fit there I'd have to be content with a Regular Cab because the trucks are so darn long.
      As for equipment, you can still get the stripped one with vinyl seats/rubber floor/no CD player/etc. if you want. I honestly don't see the attraction though. I'd never buy anything with less than cloth seats and carpet for myself, because my pickup is my winter car and if I'm really dirty I can just throw a towel on the seat and flip my floormat rubber-side-up. Even on my family's farm I think our last stripped-down pickup was a '73 International with everything newer having at least cloth seats, A/C and carpet.

      1. P161911 Avatar

        Having just purchased a 2011 Chevy Silverdao WT (work truck/white trash package) I can say, A/C is standard, cloth or vinyl is a no cost option, but you don't get color choice, dark gray vinyl or black cloth to go with the acres of hard gray plastic on the inside. I did get the cloth seats. You can not get carpet in the WT package. I got an extended cab, standard 6.5' bed model with all of two options: a limited slip diff. and a CD player, mainly because that had the audio input jack. I got the dealer to install a bed extender and a storage box under the read seat. I did pick black for the color so the black grill wouldn't stick out as much, 80% of the WT trucks are painted white and look like they are owned by the government. It has the ancient 4.3L V-6 with an automatic, no manual available. It stickered for just under $26k, but rebates right now are running about $8k. That makes it one of the cheapest true six passenger vehicles that you can get new. I do believe it is a good 4-6" taller than the 1988 F-150 i just got rid of.

  11. Black Steelies Avatar

    I would put forward Cadillac. The brand previously avowed to embody the standard of the world and did up until after the Great Depression. GM took it under its wing and sales improved, but Caddy lost part of its soul. Still, not all was lost and it was still a real standout until maybe the 1970s. The first-gen Eldorado was probably the last truly special car for awhile. By then a lot of the personality and world-standard-ness had diminished. Finally, there is new interest forged in the Art and Science design mood, proving fortunate for sales, and a new brand identity. I hope this forward momentum continues.

  12. smokyburnout Avatar

    I had a thought a few days ago while flipping though the Consumer Reports Annual Auto Issue (Hey! Don't walk away! This is going somewhere, promise).
    Would the company that was Mercedes in the 60s, the 70s or even the 80s let a problem like the shittiness of the Smart ForTwo's transmission persist for over a decade?

  13. topdeadcentre Avatar

    To be fair to the Honda Gold Wing, it started as a build-it-up-yourself touring bike, and then Honda discovered that they could sell the touring bits and make good money, so good that Windjammer (fairings) and K-G (luggage and backrests) ran into financial trouble.
    If you don't like the current model bloat, just buy an older one from the first years, the early 80's, or pick your preferred level of bloat from the late 80's until now. A startlingly large number of the early Gold Wings are still on the road running up big miles, and they're not terribly expensive to buy. Trying to keep one running? Just clap your hands twice and wave your credit card, and Gold Wing parts fall out of the sky. Contrast that with trying to find fairing parts for a mid-80's Suzuki Cavalcade…